Old Media Approached Anew at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art

Although artistic media—like painting, printmaking, and drawing—may age over time, they don’t necessarily get old. To understand the difference, look no farther than this month’s exhibition “Under 35: Part III” at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art where the liberties taken by three contemporary artists make some of the oldest art forms appear fresh and sometimes even unrecognizable.

Mixed media is the name of the game for the featured artists Nicola López, Nouel Riel, and Jack Warren. Despite disparate sensibilities, they share a contemporary approach to the time-honored techniques of painting, printmaking, or drawing. Materials like wine, soil, gouache, and magazine clippings appear in abundance, allowing abstraction and representation to comingle in compositions focused largely on inner, outer, and especially, urban landscapes. 

With the 21st-century city serving as her source of inspiration, Nicola López aims to convey both the physical and psychological experience of being in a city, characterized equally by the tangible (buildings, streets, and skylines) and the intangible (pace, interconnectedness, and sensations). “The landscape that we live in has become saturated with signs of easy mobility, speed, constant communication, imposition of structure, insistence on growth and glorification of technology,” she explains. “My work incorporates these signs, exaggerating and reconfiguring them in order to build maps that convey the sense of wonder and vertigo that is inevitable as we face the landscape of today’s world.”

Nouel Riel, who is just embarking upon her career, maps her inner emotional and psychological landscape in her “Manufactured Intimacy” series of scanned body parts and in mixed media paintings. Using unconventional materials like wine and soil, she gives physical form to thoughts and feelings in thickly built-up, abstract surfaces that appear sculptural.  

Jack Warren also turns to mixed media paintings, utilizing material and color to challenge common conceptions of visual language and realize his own layered realms. “My current paintings and drawings are maps of a dream world extracted by way of scientific process and accidental design,” Warren has said. His work can be situated somewhere between the opposing styles of López and Riel, characterized by interlaced planes of abstract and figurative imagery and text culled from publications and periodicals. Warren’s approach results in electric, dynamic compositions that evidence a strategic measure of control. He explains: “As experiments in incidental construction, imaginary forms emerge through a system of controlled catastrophe, in which idiosyncratic lines and random compositions outline a fragmented spectrum of potential realities.”

As with all of the works on view, these works start with the artist’s responses to themselves and the world, and are completed when we bring ourselves to them.

Karen Kedmey

Under 35: Part III” is on view at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, Feb. 6–21, 2015.

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